Strategic Change Management Levers

Change is never easy. Sometimes, finding the right levers to keep people motivated during change is counter-intuitive. Not surprisingly, many senior executives pull levers that they feel are important without getting any real traction. Listed below are levers that have been identified by various organizations, in their general order of priority.

  1. Leaders’ role modeling, teaching and coaching
  2. Leaders’ reactions to critical incidents and organizational crises
  3. What leaders pay attention to, measure and control
  4. Leaders’ openness, trust, and communication
  5. Allocation of rewards, recognition, status and punishments
  6. Criteria for promotion, recruitment and termination
  7. Strategic and financial plans
  8. Organizational structure and reporting relationships
  9. Systems and procedures
  10. Design and use of physical space
  11. Formal vision, mission and philosophy statements


The items listed in numbers one through four have been universally chosen by executives and employees alike as the top four change levers. They are often in a different order of priority, depending on the organization, but the same four are always at the top of the list.

Items five and six are also universally found to be in the middle of the pack. This is not surprising, considering that they deal with peoples’ security issues.

Items seven through eleven are also always the bottom five levers. They are often prioritized or ranked somewhat differently, depending on the climate in the company surveyed. However, the constant seems to be number eleven; it is almost always last.

So, what does all this mean? It boils down to three blinding flashes of the obvious:

  1. People look more closely at what their leaders “do” rather than what they say. They look to their leaders for clues about what’s important during change. A leader’s actions either make or break an organizational change.
  2. Secondly, people are more concerned about their careers and security during change than they are about strategy, structure, systems, procedures, and the design of physical space.
  3. And, finally, while a living, meaningful shared vision is a motivator for people, formal vision, mission and philosophy statements have minimum leverage during organizational change. People are looking for evidence that the leadership believes in the vision, not merely a piece of paper.


If you find that the change levers above apply to your company, it’s time to pull the levers that get you the big results. John Kotter and James Heskett highlighted this point in their book, Corporate Culture and Performance (Free Press, New York, 1992).

Take a look at the table below which, reflect their eleven-year study of thirty-two companies. Twelve of the companies were pulling all the right levers above, and twenty of them were not.

The Economics of High Performance Cultures (1977-1988) 
Growth Factors
Average for Twelve Firms with High Performing Cultures
Average for Twenty Firms without High Performing Cultures
Revenue Growth
Employment Growth 
Stock Price Growth
Net Income Growth

Courtesy of Brady and Associates 

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